I have long prided myself on being an unabashed nerd, but lately, I fear my nerd button might be somewhat broken. Last year, I attended the San Diego Comic Con (told ya…nerd), where I saw the first sneak peeks of both Paul and Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. I was thrilled with what I saw of Sucker Punch, a movie now suffering a horrendous nerd backlash. Meanwhile, I was completely underwhelmed by the trailer for Paul (and every subsequent trailer I have seen since), a movie enjoying quite a bit of nerd love on the Interwebs.


I hoped I was wrong about Paul, believe me. I gain no pleasure in not getting behind any project that puts Simon Pegg and Nick Frost together. After their brilliant skewering of both zombie and action films, the notion of them tackling the world of sci-fi is one that I oh so desperately would love to endorse. But I can’t. At least not this time. Not when it’s Paul.

To be fair, I don’t really think my problems with Paul had anything to do with my nerd status. I think it had a lot more to do with the fact that I am not 13 years old. For an R-rated comedy supposedly aimed at a smarter crowd, there’s an awful lot of humor in Paul that will really work best for those too young to see the movie. First of all, as I always feared, there’s really not much to the character of Paul himself other than the supposedly funny notion of watching an alien curse, smoke weed, make gay jokes, and show people his privates. Even worse, Kristen Wiig’s main reoccurring gag in the film involves her attempts to start swearing, something she has never done before now – this of course results in a lot of lines with her saying things like “fucky shit-face” and stuff like that. Maybe, MAYBE, I would loved this kind of stuff when I was a kid. But now, not so much.

Remove all that, and then you’re just left with the plethora of nerdy inside jokes and references that a lot of sci-fi fans are pointing out as the main reason they enjoy Paul. Well, OK, sure, I laughed at a couple of these…but it’s not really enough to sustain a movie. In fact, it’s really kind of cheap and easy. Pegg and Frost aren’t de-constructing the genre’s cliches like they did so well in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Instead, here they are usually just cherry-picking lines, bits of music and visual cues from some of sci-fi fandom’s favorite shows and movies. Anyone can do that. I’m not saying everyone can do it well, and I’ll admit that MOST filmmakers would probably do a much worse job than what is on hand here. But at the same time, there’s a big difference between the way a Tarantino or Edgar Wright movie will weave the filmmaker’s influences into the movies and make them their own, and the way Paul simply throws references at you. It can be fun to catch them all on first viewing, but it’s not really a substitute for a real joke, and I have a feeling this will become more obvious to viewers on repeat viewings.

Thankfully, though, Paul DOES finally pick up in the last act, when it turns from more of a standard road-trip comedy into something of an over-the-top action film. At this point, Paul finally captures some of the same manic energy that made Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz so much fun – it’s just too bad I had to wait so long and through so much missed opportunities to get there.

I think, what this is, is Pegg and Frost consciously trying to make more of a big American comedy, which might be the problem. It’s missing the more subtle wit of their British work, and is instead happy most of the time to resort to the easiest way to get a laugh (hey, look, Paul’s mooning them! It’s funny cause he’s an alien!). Sure, I guess it’s worth seeing once if you’re a sci-fi fan, cause you’ill get a quick out of spotting the references, and you’ll most likely enjoy the more frenetic last 20 minutes. But coming from Pegg and Frost, I can’t really think of this as anything but a disappointment.

This review was originally posted on March 27th, 2011 at Trevor Likes Movies.

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